Thursday, February 11, 2021

Story Focus Shenanigans

We've pointed out for years that PolitiFact's story focus often determines the "Truth-O-Meter" rating at the end. Story focus shenanigans never go out of style at PolitiFact.

PolitiFact's method allows its fact checkers any number of ways to approach the same claim. A fact checker might focus on what the claimant said was meant. Or the fact checker could focus on how an audience might perceive the claim. One approach might lead to one "Truth-O-Meter" rating and another approach to a different "Truth-O-Meter" rating. There's no good evidence of any objective criteria guiding the process.

That brings us to two timely examples that help illustrate the phenomenon.

"Mostly False" for the Republican

President Biden set policy to allow essential workers who are undocumented to receive coronavirus vaccines. Why is Scalise's statement "Mostly False"? Apparently because American citizens who are not among the first groups eligible for the vaccine are not waiting to get the vaccine:
But, we wondered, does allowing this population access to the vaccine mean they are being invited to step in front of American citizens in the queue?

PolitiFact weasel-words "in the queue" so that Americans in low priority vaccine eligibility groups are not in the queue at all and are thus not skipped over when undocumented immigrants join those in the high priority groups.

You're not waiting for the vaccine if you're not in that narrowly-defined queue. PolitiFact quoted a Scalise spokesperson who explained his meaning. To no avail. Scalise received a "Mostly False" rating even though his statement was literally true taken in context, with "in the queue" encompassing all American citizens awaiting the vaccine.

"Half True" for the Democrat


Pointedly, PolitiFact does not look at all the ways Mr. Biden's claim fails the test of truth. It does mention some of them, but breezes past such technicalities to point out that IF the person making below $15 per hour is the sole breadwinner in a family of four AND/OR lives in an area with high living expenses THEN they would fall below the poverty level.

How many of those earning less than $15 per hour meet those conditions? Well, if that was important then PolitiFact would have given us a number. Obviously it's not important. What we need to know is that under some conditions Biden's statement could be true. Those missing conditions count as missing context and that matches PolitiFact's definition of "Half True"!

Marvel at PolitiFact's rationalization:

A spokesman for Biden said he was referring to a family of four with one full-time income using the federal government’s poverty guideline, an explanation Biden didn’t include in the interview. Using that measurement, that family with a paycheck of $13 an hour would live below the poverty line. At $15 an hour, the same family would clearly be above the poverty line. So Biden was off by about a dollar, using the existing standards.

But experts said wages alone don’t tell the full story about whether a household lives in poverty. Other factors include child care and housing costs, for example, which can vary by geography. Generalizing a "poverty wage" to a specific number ignores the different circumstances that families face. Other experts said the federal definition of a poverty level is out of date and needs changing.

We rate this claim Half True.

You wonder why similar reasoning couldn't justify a "Half True" for Scalise?

Why do you hate science?

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